“The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.”
Let’s talk about “End Marks.” This includes the period, the question mark, the exclamation point and abbreviations.
• Period: The most important use of a period is to end a sentence. It is also used in the abbreviations such as Mr., Ms., Dr. etc, and F.B.I., I.R.S., N.Y., and U.S.A. Periods (dots) are also used on the internet and should only be used as a separation of an extension (smith.jpg, smith.pdf, http://www.artist.com)
Interestingly enough, previously end punctuation marks separated sentences with two spaces, now the accepted convention is to use one space only.
• Exclamation Point: These should be used at the end of an emphatic declaration. It can also be used as an interjection or a command. i.e. What a beautiful sculpture! The show amazed me! That’s an unbelievable color! Be aware that exclamation points tend to be overused, especially on the internet. I find myself doing it a lot especially on Social Networking but I think about it before I hit the return/enter button. When it’s over used it can dilute the effectiveness of it. I try to think about it before and after I put it in.
• Question Mark: This seems obvious but… A direct question is followed by a question mark. Generally it is used by itself, without other marks but an exception would be “She said what!?” There are times when a question mark should be used and questions where it should not:
• Direct Questions – a question that you are asking another person when you are speaking to them or when one person in a narrative is asking another person a question. i.e. “Do you know what happens when you mix red with green?”
• Indirect Questions – usually when one person is talking about something that happened. You should not use a question mark in that situation. i.e. “She asked what would happen if she mixed red with green.”
Other punctuation marks are used in the middle of sentences, to break up a thought or concept, or to extend the space between words. I think of an end mark as a dead stop/breath break. A semicolon is a large stop/breath. A comma is a slight stop/breath.
• Comma: The formal uses of a comma are:
• To separate elements in a series. i.e. paint, brushes, pastels, pencils, charcoal
• To connect two independent clauses. i.e. The painting was beautiful, but the lighting in the gallery didn’t suffice.
• To set off introductory elements in a sentence. i.e. Despite the lighting in the gallery, the painting was exquisite and the smallest lines were quite evident.
• Parenthetical elements – depending on how strong you want to offset the comment. i.e. The artist was in the studio, creating a painting, when the curator walked in.
• Colon: use this to mean “what follows” in situations as this:
• Before a list of items, especially after expressions like as follows and the following. i.e. The Julian Easel held just about everything: brushes, all of my paints, linseed oil and there was even a place for my canvas.
• Before a long formal statement or quotation. i.e. The Museum Director made a formal speech: The works of art that you will see here represent the period of Post-war Modern Art.
• In certain conventional situations such as:
• The time. i.e. 4:30 P.M.
• Semicolon: The is an under utilized form of punctuation and is something I’ve come to love recently. Using it also makes your writing more professional and intelligent. A semicolon can also break up a run on sentence. There are different situations to use it in:
• To join independent clauses that are not joined by and, but, or, nor, for or yet. i.e. Over 100 artists showed up for the demonstration; it lasted from 5 to 8pm and there was a reception afterwords.
• Between to independent clauses joined by such words as for example, for instance, that is, besides, accordingly, moreover, nevertheless, furthermore, otherwise, therefore, however, consequently, instead, hence. i.e. Artists always seem to just make the deadline for an exhibition; for instance, we always get at least 50 submissions on the last day.
• To separate clauses that include a comma. I find myself using this one often. i.e. The exhibition included Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon; Edvard Monk’s The Scream; Georgia O’Keeffe’s Black Iris; Joan Miro’s Moonbird among many other ground breaking pieces.
Tip: sometimes you can look at a run-on sentence and see where it can break up clearly. Decide how much of a break you want to give your reader and place the appropriate punctuation. As I keep saying, good writing is essential to your success. So please keep following these posts. It can make all the difference.
*The definitions of punctuation here are adapted from the following sources
• Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, An Encyclopedia Britannica Company, 2005.
“There is nothing more agonizing than bearing an untold story within you.”
Envision yourself walking into a gallery and you are absolutely, positively fascinated by what you see. The titles, media and size are not enough. They are only a clue to the concept. The art is really well executed and thought out. You are either not sure of what it really is or you want to be sure that you get it. You want to know more.
So you walk up to the desk where the gallery director or an assistant is sitting and start asking questions. About the artist – they can only tell you about their experience with them. What made them decide on that particular artist – they can answer that. Then you ask about the art. About the concept, how the artist did it, what they were thinking and feeling at the time. You get either cursory answers or a blank stare. What to do?
You go home and get on your computer. Search for the artists name and find a website with more art, a resume, a bio and contact information and not much more. The web is about instant gratification, you get bored and lose interest.
Consider this alternative scenario. Same compelling exhibition, in the same gallery and you are drawn in, breath taken by the art. You go up to the desk and start asking those very same questions. The person behind the desk jumps up, comes out and starts speaking enthusiastically about the artist and their process. You almost can’t get a word in edgewise. It draws you in, as if you were in the studio with that artist. You ask to see a price list. You see that you can actually afford a print that moved you and you must have it. Not only because the art was beyond amazing. Not only because it would look amazing in your living room and you’d enjoy seeing it every day. Because the artist is so compelling. Done! Sold!
The print arrives and you put it on the wall. The experience of the gallery visit was so thrilling that every time you look at the piece the very same feeling comes up in your heart. You must have more. Done! You are now a collector!
Eventually you meet the artist, get to go to their studio often, wind up going to a chique bar and have a drink with the “in crowd.” Life just gets amazing!
There you have it. The power of the Artist Statement. The power to change lives. You have given the gallery the power and knowledge to sell your art. Galleries love a well written artist statement. It’s not just the commission and the sale. It’s the involvement in changing a life. Yours. I actually heard a gallery owner say that he wanted to help as many artists as possible. If you give him the tools, he’ll sell your art. The Artist Statement provides the gallery the information they need to turn a viewer into a buyer.
The Artist Statement is also used for a press release or press packet. I will go more into depth when I address reaching the press another time. A good Artist Statement is an integral part of the press packet. It also gives the writer of the press release the information they need to appeal to an editor. (An editor is the one who decides whether a story is good enough to send a reporter out.) It gives the journalist the information they need to write not only a good article about you but a compelling one. The kind of article that makes your event, exhibition, art and even you – the artist – a must see.
The Artist Statement helps you when writing grants, residencies, fellowships and all kinds of applications. By getting through the process of writing your Artist Statement, you will become more articulate about your work and become a much better writer. You will be able to knock out those applications with ease. By being more in touch with what you are doing you will also be in a better place to decide which opportunities overall suit your work the best. More about grants and applications another time.
Lastly, addressing websites and the internet. Effective exposure on the internet includes statements about what you are doing. It can turn a visitor into a “click” or a hit. It can make the difference as to whether they click on your website on a search engine. They are more likely to become a follower on social networking sites. They can become a collector or buyer and make a recommendation for you.
I hope that I haven’t put pressure on you by saying this. I only want to express the importance of completing your Artist Statement. I also want to get you excited. Writing, fiction or non-fiction, is fun! Enjoy the process.
A word about the next series of posts. They will be about grammar. Groan! you say? You are probably having bad memories from high school English class. The teacher who beat the importance of a period into your head and those boring textbooks. I say English teacher and textbooks be gone! Empowerment and a stronger artistic voice come in! I hope to take away all that boring high school garbage and the confusion or the mislead feeling that you are confused away, and show you how good and effective a writer you already are. How you can strengthen the voice you already use to speak. Grammar is simply a tool. Think of a period the same way you would think of that dab of paint carefully placed on the canvas making a painting not only good but brilliant. Not only will this help you to edit better, but it will help you understand the series of posts following that: The Resume. Stay tuned!
Artists are so visual that they often overlook the power of words. Believe me when I tell you that words – the way they are written and/or said – ARE important. You CAN harness that power and use it to express yourself in a unique and effective way. To connect, create a bridge between you and your viewer. A bridge that might just turn a viewer into a buyer and a buyer into a collector.
If you are doubting what I’m saying about the power of words then think of this. Remember the saying “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never harm me.” It’s definitely not true. In fact, words can do lasting damage. This sounds negative but have you ever wished that someone had used one word in place of another because it would have alleviated the pain they caused or it wouldn’t have been painful in the first place. Words can go straight to your heart. They can change a meaning of everything you just said. They can change the tone of a whole book – and require the author to go back and revise the entire book. Similar to a painting. One dot of red may change the whole thing and require you to go back and rework the entire piece.
As you can see I love words. Editing has become like a creative crossword puzzle to me. Here is an exercise that incorporates using the power of words….
After you have a solid piece of writing, it answers all of the questions that a viewer may ask and you think you are satisfied then go into a room and read it out loud. Does it flow off your tongue? Does it feel good to say? Are there any words or punctuation that you stumble over? A sentence that doesn’t flow properly or convey exactly, exactly what you mean. One word can interrupt the flow of an entire sentence, an entire piece of writing.
Two of the most powerful tools I have found are the Dictionary and Thesaurus. Look up just one word and read the entire definition and suggestions of other words to use. You’ll be amazed and find things you never thought of before. Here is an example:
Inspiration: in(t)-spe-‘ra’-shan, – (,)spi-/in (14 century) 1.a: a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate with sacred revelation. b: the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions c: the act of influencing or suggesting opinions 2: the act of drawing in: specific The Drawing of air into the lungs. 3a: the quality or state of being inspired. b: something that was inspired. 4. an inspiring agent of influence.
This can also be a marvelous tool if you feel stuck. Here is another exercise:
Write a list of words that describe your art and look them up in the dictionary or thesaurus one by one. It opens the doors to your mind and your heart and suddenly the words will just flow. Start to free write about what each word means to you if you’re still stuck after that.
Another exercise is to have someone else read it out loud to you, after you’re completely finished with it. As they read it you will see if they understand the meaning of what you have written. You can also see if they stumble over words or sentences. Listen carefully. Having more than one person read it is also good because it will let you see who your artist statement resonates with.
Remember that an artist statement is never really finished. Your process and technique will change. You really should review it every three to six months and see if it needs tweaking. If you have followed the steps in the previous posts and in this post congratulations! You have completed your artist statement. Getting over the hurdle of writing your first artist statement can be the hardest thing but once it’s complete you know you will have something you can really use. It will be easier to change and keep up with. You will be able to talk and write about your work with confidence. You will be able to write grants, fellowships, residencies, press releases, exhibition proposals and so much more. Galleries like artists who can write and who can talk. This is the second major step to your success.
One of the most important questions, that can help your viewer get into your mind and your heart, is how does the act of making art make you feel. Is it a wonderment. an excitement, calming, peaceful. What’s going on in your being? What does it do for your soul?
Someone with a passion for art, who doesn’t have the ability to make it, cannot conceive of why you do it and how you feel. If you can touch them in that way your statement will ultimately be successful. Walk them into the studio with you.
The best way to do this is to bring the five senses into your writing. That is Sight, Smell, Touch, Feel and Taste. Okay, maybe the last one doesn’t exactly apply to art making. Writers will also tell you to show not tell. So describe what your studio looks like, how it smells and feels. Is it the best place in the world for you to be in? Why? If you’re a painter, for example, where are the paints in your studio and why? What do they feel like? How do they smell? What is your surface and why do you use it? What effects are you hoping to achieve?
That said, you don’t want to cross that line of telling the viewer how to look at your art. That’s crossing into the art historical, curatorial description of your work. You want to tell them what you see in it, not what you want them to see.
Try this exercise. Get a piece of paper and your favorite writing tool. Get into that relaxed creative zone. Then write about your studio. Imagine that you are someone else walking in the door and describe every detail of what it looks like, feels like, smells like, etc. You will write a lot, and don’t worry about that. This is primarily to get you in touch with showing and not telling. In touch with the senses.
One more tip, beware of using too many adjectives. Be aware of what adjectives you are using and why. A general rule is to not use more than two adjectives to describe something but rules are meant to be broken. The repetition I described in the last post may apply to this.
As always have fun with this. Espousing freely helps you find your artistic voice, your writer’s voice and can give you a lot of confidence.
Have fun with this exercise.
One idea that I really love is to have what Barbara Sher – author of Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want – calls an “Idea Party.” For the artists statement what this amounts to is asking a group of trusted friends to come over and talk about your art. What you will do is put out some wine and some snacks, your art and having them talk about the art.
It’s interesting to see what other people say. They may bring up ideas you never even thought about and you may even get a new direction for your work while you’re at it. You’ll want to record it somehow because you want to be fully engaged in the conversation (and not be stuck writing things down). Inform everyone, of course, that you will be recording this before they come and it will be absolutely confidential.
You should start by asking a question. Ask them what they think about a painting, the color in the painting, the shape, the size, etc. Encourage them to ask you questions and be sure to note what they’re asking. (The most effective artist statement answers the questions your viewers have).
A few days later, get into that quiet place with a pen and unlimited amounts of paper and turn on the recording. Sit there and listen and take it all in. Absorb without writing. After you’ve listened to it once, listen again and this time write, write, write away. Write down the questions that your friends are asking about the art, write down your own ideas as they randomly come to you. Be open, be free and enjoy! I hope by this point you’re beginning to enjoy writing and finding it as creative and inspiring as I do. Remember, most of all don’t edit, yet. I’ll give you tips about that later. Keep following these steps and you’ll be successful because I’m not just training you to write your artists statement, I’m training you to write in general. To be successful you will have to write, fill out applications and apply for things. Writing is key to success but it shouldn’t be a burden. Enjoy it!
Wishcraft: How to Get What you Really Want, Barbara Sher with Annie Gottlieb, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 2004. http://www.barbarasher.com/index.htm
You may not even use the whole thing but you will definitely get prized nuggets about your art that may indeed blow your mind. You may be surprised and not even know that you had it in you to write like that. One of my friends is a wonderful short fiction writer and after this exercise she came up with a marvelous prose poem. We were both blown away. She didn’t know she had it in her. It’s an amazing exercise and I hope you find that it is. Remember that the absolute key is not to pick up your writing implement for 20 minutes.
The first exercise I will give you is one of my favorites. It involves getting into that place where you are one with the pen and are just letting everything that comes into your mind out. Partly inspired by “The Morning Pages” in Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” and partly by seasoned writers who simply call it free writing. Tapping into your unconscious and letting it all hang out. Remember that you don’t have to show it to anyone. Don’t worry about editing as you go. You can do that later. If you do edit as you go your thoughts won’t flow. You will begin to wonder if what you’re saying is right and suddenly you’ll find yourself blocked. Almost like writing a diary about your art and your life. What ever is on your mind put it on paper or on the screen-wherever you’re most comfortable.
Sit down before your writing medium. Relax completely and make sure there are no distractions. Choose a pen and paper-I find that the words flow better on paper; you may find the computer easier to write on. Then start. The difference between this exercise and the morning pages is that you have a theme. Your art.
You can even start by saying “I hate this exercise. I don’t know what to say. What the heck should I say about my art….”. Most importantly do not give up. Keep going and if it turns out that you’re not writing about your art that’s okay too. Clearing your mind opens your creativity and your heart. Come back to it later or do this agin and again and again if that’s what it takes. You may begin to really enjoy the process of writing and find that you have something to say.
If you do get something out about your art and you’ve written enough about your art even for the day, sometimes you can get sapped and need to take a 24 hour break, leave it aside for that length of time.
When you come back to it go into a room by yourself and shut the door. Read aloud what you have. Don’t rush through it. Slowly, carefully. Enjoy the words, enjoy the language as it passes through your lips and try to listen. Don’t make any judgments. You may find that it opens up a flood of language that you must put on the page. A great author and activist Maya Angelou inspired that in a podcast I heard from TimesTalks. I’ll link to it at the end of this post. She is so inspiring to me. She said that is exactly what she does to break a writing block and yes, even Maya Angelou faces that from time to time. It clears your mind and makes the voices of self doubt disappear. It’s an amazing exercise and I hope this works for you. Keep following this blog because there will be more exercises and ideas.
Henry Moore was an amazing sculptor who was the most well known sculptor in England in the 20th Century. His work is semi-abstract inspired by landscape, bones, human features, shells, pebbles and more. Here is a link to more about him on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Moore
I want to share with you excerpts from three interviews he did because I think they are perfect examples of his artist statement. They are from the catalog “Henry Moore at The Serpentine” from an exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery and Kensington Gardens, published in 1978 on the occasion of his 80th birthday. He meant for his work to be viewed in a garden setting. It’s at is best in the open air. Throughout the years his work evolved and you will see by the dates that as he changed direction his statements changed with it. I hope that you find this inspiring. Read on!
“When I first began doing sculpture about 1922, or so, I often worked direct in a piece of stone or wood, which might have been not a geometric shape, but just an odd random block of stone that one found cheaply in some stonemason’s yard, or a log of wood which was a natural shape, and then I’d make a sculpture out of that bit of material as I could, and therefore one would wait until the material suggested an idea.
Now a days I don’t work so much in that way, as I have an idea, or an idea comes to me, and then I find the material to make it in, and do that, the ideas that I am concerned with, I’ll produce several maquettes – sketches in plaster – not much bigger than one’s hand, certainly small enough to hold in one’s hand, so that you can turn them around as you shape them and work on them without having to get up and walk around them, and you have a complete grasp of their shape from all around the whole time. If the form, the idea, that you’re doing is much bigger than that, then to see what it’s like on the other side, you have to get up, walk around it, and this restricts your imagining and grasping what it’s like as you can when it’s small. But all the time that I am doing this small model, in my mind it isn’t the small model that I”m doing. It’s the big sculpture that I intend to do.” Henry Moore, 1964
” One doesn’t know really how ideas come. But you can induce them by starting in the far little studio without looking at a box of pebbles. Sometimes I may scribble some doodles, as I said, in a notebook; within my mind they may be a reclining figure, or perhaps a particular subject. Then with those pebbles, or the sketches in the notebook, I sit down and something begins. Then perhaps at a certain stage the idea crystallizes and then you know what to do, what to alter. You dislike what you’ve just made, and change it. At the end of a week you’re sitting in that nice little easy chair with the bench in front, and there’ll be probably some fifteen or so maquettes about 5 or 6 inches long, if it’s a reclining figure, or that height if it’s an upright. Then either I know that a few of those are ideas that I like, or that I don’t like any of them. If some are ones that I like, then I’ll do a variation on that idea, or I’ll change it if I’m critical. Done in that way the thing evolves. In my mind always though, in making these little ideas, is the eventual sculpture which may be ten or twelve times the size of the macquette that I hold in my hand” Henry Moore, 1960
“The human figure is what interests me most deeply, but I have found principles of form and rhythm from the study of natural objects such as pebbles, rocks, bones, trees, plants, etc.
Pebbles and rocks show nature’s way of working stone. Smooth, sea-worn pebbles show the wearing away, rubbed treatment of stone and principles of asymmetry.
Rocks show the hacked, hewn treatment of stone, and have jagged nervous blocked rhythm.
Bones have marvelous structural strength and hard tenseness of form, subtle transition of one shape into the next and great variety in section.
Trees (tree trunks) show principles of growth and strength of joints, with easy passing of one section into the next. They give the ideal for wood sculpture, upward twisting movement.
Shells show nature’s hard but hollow form (metal sculpture) and have a wonderful completeness of single shape.” Henry Moore 1933
Henry Moore was immediate and frank in his understanding and description of his work. He was also very articulate. He seemed not to know really what was happening but at the same time he did. He left it to chance and let the materials tell him what to do. That’s what he was saying. It’s almost as if you’re having a conversation with him. These are excerpts from interviews so in a way you are having a conversation with him. If you can be this frank and immediate in your writing you will have something extremely powerful. That kind of writing almost comes from the unconscious and you can tap into it by using the free writing exercise I mentioned in the previous post.
When I tell artists about writing and how important to their careers it is I usually get a look of dread. How do you put something so visual into words? Artists are not usually articulate about their work, a lot of times it comes from the unconscious. The language is visual so how do you articulate in speech and writing what you are doing?
Many artists also tell me that their grammar is not good or their writing is not good. However, everyone has a story to tell and this is your chance to tell the story of your art. I’m going to give you, here, a few tips about writing.
I used to confuse the artists statement with the bio. The bio is a narrative version of your resume. Pick a few of your greatest achievements and highlight them in your bio. The artist statement is something that answers the questions your viewer may have about your work. It engages them and brings them into a deeper level of understanding. It creates a relationship between you and your viewer. It’s what can turn a viewer into a collector.
I used to be nervous about making an artist write their artist statement because sometimes the art of making art is not really knowing what your doing. Then someone pointed out to me that it can be an exploration, a process that brings the artist into a deeper understanding of what they are doing, who they are and what their direction is. If you are one of those people that hates writing, think of this as an adventure. A discovery if you will and you will enjoy it.
First and foremost remember that writing is a process. In my last job as the Executive Director of Women’s Studio Center we had many writers and I would see their work again and again in our writers forums. They would revise past pieces and bring them in for feedback. Until they got it right. They loved it and reveled in the details. Think of it as creative as making your art and if you can be articulate you will not only succeed but soar.
I like to start with an exercise called free writing. Get yourself into that creative mode where you are one with the paper and let the words flow. It doesn’t matter what you say or how it comes out, don’t worry if the grammar is correct. Just let it out. You can start by saying “I’m stuck, I don’t know what to write. Writing about art is so hard. What shall I say?…” Keep on going and it will eventually come out. Leave it aside and come back in a few days and look at it. Then piece together the good parts or free write some more.
Another great exercise is to have an “art idea party.” Put out your work and some wine and a few snacks and invite some friends over. Ask them to talk about your art. To ask questions and see what they think. It can be a difficult situation to take notes in so you can turn on a tape recorder. (Make sure your friends know that you will be taping it for your own private use first). Ultimately you will want to answer the questions that the viewer has of your art so this is a good way to get started.
Remember that writing is a process and developing your artists statement is an ongoing process. As your art evolves so will your statement. It’s a work in progress but getting the first one out is ultimately important. You will use it in all kinds of applications – grants, fellowships, residencies – and in catalogs, press releases and more. By being in touch with your art and your direction you will know which opportunities to seek out. In the coming posts I will be talking more about the writing process. I love writing so much and want to share some secrets and tips that I have learned over the years. I also want to make the process easier for you and eliminate the intimidation. Writing can actually be fun and inspiring. Your artist statement can be the most inspiring thing you do.